This short ‘essay’, written during the Tang dynasty by a well-known scholar was based on a Chinese fable. According to the fable, there’s this guy (let’s call him Bob for simplicity) who’s an excellent horse breeder. He was especially esteemed for being able to consistently breed top-notch horses that could gallop at top speeds for long distances without tiring. Hence the name: thousand-league horse.
Said scholar was trying to draw an analogy between Bob and his thousand-league-horses-talents. Thus he explained:
Firstly, you will need Bob. Then you will get your “thousand-league horses”. To be sure, there’s probably many “thousand-league horses”available, but it is hard to find a sterling horse breeder like Bob who knows how to spot the potential in the horses and turn them into winners. In the hands of mediocre breeders, even horses from excellent stock will be ruined and their potential never fulfilled.
For example, the breeder needs to know how much feed to give to the horses. If he underfeed them, the horses will be hungry and sallow. Even a “thousand league” horse will be weak; its mane will not have a healthy sheen and it will be no different from an ordinary horse. How then can one expect it to gallop a thousand leagues?!?!
So, by not giving them the proper training, feeding them well, and not being able to communicate with the horses at all, the mediocre breeder exclaims: There’s no such thing as a thousand-league horse! Is there really none? Only it is because he cannot recognise them!
In very few words, the author had summarised the dilemma of his generation: there’s no lack of talents, only a lack of sponsors who are able to effectively spot and nurture talents. A dilemma we still face today.